In March 2020, when the pandemic was in its nascent stages, 32-year-old Lucy O’Keeffe contracted Covid, feeling its effects to the highest degree.
The British Sign Language interpreter couldn’t get out of bed for seven weeks, struck down by symptoms including a hacking cough, shallow breathing and body aches affecting her whole body.
At the time, when younger people were also succumbing to the virus, O’Keeffe feared that being admitted to hospital may mean she might not return.
Two years later, she is still reeling from the effects of the virus, with what is now referred to as long Covid.
“I think a lot of people think long Covid is just ongoing of some of the Covid symptoms,” she tells HuffPost UK. “But for me, it’s been like a complete drastic change.”
Despite an estimated 1.5 million people (2.4% of the population) experiencing self-reported long Covid (symptoms persisting for more than four weeks after the first suspected coronavirus infection), the condition is often left out of conversations during the pandemic.
But people like O’Keeffe have had their lives hijacked by the condition. She now struggles to walk unaided – using a mobility scooter for bigger trips and a walking stick for shorter trips. She has extreme exhaustion and breathlessness and struggles to put her socks on.
As a result, O’Keeffe has had to move back in with her mum who helps her with basic tasks like cooking, cleaning and washing her hair.
Her working hours and work load are also dramatically reduced. Before, she’d travel around London helping to advocate for deaf people by interpreting. Now, she struggles to maintain the focus needed to do this and instead works from home and does email translation, as it requires less intense focus and concentration.
Unfortunately, she has also re-contracted Covid, experiencing the now common symptoms including a sore throat, cough, fever and body aches. And the whole experience has been triggering for her.
O’Keeffe, who has asthma, explains that long Covid has significantly changed her energy output, which has had a knock-on effect on her social life.
“I was never classed as disabled. I was fully independent. I worked, I lived alone whereas now, for example, if I want to shower that’s my main activity of the day,” she says.
“I’m so exhausted after a shower and that’s it, that’s my energy used up. And even to shower I have to sit on what’s called a bath bench or a shower chair, because I can’t stand up to shower. So gone are the days of jumping in the shower then rushing out. It’s a huge life change and completely debilitating.”
Even an hour of seeing her friends can leave her exhausted and in bed the following day.
As someone with asthma, O’Keeffe felt somewhat accustomed to a respiratory condition but feels for the people who otherwise had no health complications who found themselves bound by long Covid.
In an effort to find and share some solidarity, she began speaking about her condition on Instagram, and also joined forces with charity Asthma + Lung UK to raise awareness.
O’Keeffe believe there’s not been enough support or research done into causes and treatments and hopes things will change in the near future. But, while restrictions are lifted and things continue to go back to how they were, O’Keeffe laments claims of a ‘post-pandemic’ world.
“The comments are just completely naive,” she adds. “And they’re frightening. I get triggered when people are like ‘oh, it’s just a cold,’ but you just have no idea how it feels long term.
“And doctors don’t know long term what impact that’s going to have on your body.”
So what should someone who isn’t very aware of the condition do to help those who have it?
O’Keeffe says: “Firstly, I feel like the government could have done a bit more to protect society and the vulnerable, such as just keeping masks and social distancing.
“But people can still do those things. It’s not much to ask. At the moment people think the pandemic is over and life is going back normal when it’s not. There’s still thousands of people who are stuck at home due to long Covid.”
Asthma + Lung UK is a UK charity supporting everyone with a lung condition and fighting for everyone’s right to breathe. It is calling for the government to invest more research into lung conditions. For information and support visit the Asthma + Lung UK website.